New to agile? Remember, sometimes things get crazy!

Do you ever get so frustrated you feel like pulling your hair out?  I do (although that is NOT a picture of me to the left!).  If you look at my pictures you will see that it would be difficult for me to pull my hair out because a) there isn’t a lot of it, and b) what little there is I have cut very short.  But, enough about me, back to the issue/craziness at hand.

I last updated my blog on June 14 and here it is July 27.  That is way too long between updates, so let me start by apologizing to all of you who look forward to reading entries when I post them.  Fortunately, during the time when I haven’t been updating the blog I recognized a problem which I often see on agile teams – CRAZINESS!  Yes, sometimes things get a little crazy, or in my case recently, a LOT crazy!

My last month has been extremely busy.  Since June 14th I’ve been in San Diego (twice), Minneapolis (twice), and Philadelphia.  I’ve also sent out 8 training or coaching proposals, been on 18 conference calls, attended 3 major springboard diving meets with my son, one of my daughters had her gall bladder removed and my brother visited to do 10 days of handyman repairs around my house!  In my calendar I see that I did all those things, but it still amazes me that they all got done.  What didn’t get done?  Well, this blog for one thing!

Why is it important to point out my “lack of dedication” to the blog?  Because the answer is much more interesting than “lack of dedication.”  In fact, I love writing blog entries.  It isn’t lack of dedication at all, but rather lack of time.  I made a conscious decision to do other things rather than update the blog.  Why?  Because I work in an agile way, and when I prioritized my backlog of work it caused writing blog entries to fall near the bottom of the list.

I often see agile teams saying things like “we can’t get it all done” and then they try to do the impossible.  The result is usually ugly as they cut corners to try to make everything fit after saying it wouldn’t fit.  Instead what these teams need to remember is to continue to honor their prioritized product backlog.  Work on the important items and don’t spend any energy working on items that aren’t important.  For me, not writing this blog was a tough decision.  Writing here is a bit like therapy for me.  However, for the past 5 weeks I’ve had to put it on hold because other things were much more important.  Will I have dry spells like that again?  Probably, but when it occurs it will occur because I’ve made a decision to prioritize other things higher on my backlog.

Good agile teams need to remember that things WILL get crazy.  It is during the periods of craziness that the discipline of their approach works in their favor.  Don’t fall back into old habits when the pressure or craziness starts to get out of control.  Go back to basics and continue to work in priority order.  Working faster usually leads to more errors.  Working diligently in priority order will always outperform working “faster” on everything at once.

Until next time I’ll be Making Agile a Reality® for my clients by continuing to prioritize my work and personal life in a way which will lead to a balance where I can deliver maximum value to everyone.

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  1. Gosh, you ARE busy. I think I get what you’re saying, but I’m worried some readers might get the wrong message. Yes, the prioritized backlog is our focus. However, we will never be able to deliver business value frequently at a sustainable pace if we do not have the time to learn how to write “clean code” that is easy to test and maintain, if we do not have the time to learn how to automate regression tests so we have time for exploratory testing, if we do not have the time to learn the business domain so we can better server our customers.

    We can’t always prioritize delivering stories above all else. We need slack time to experiment, make mistakes, innovate, learn, improve. Otherwise, we will get buried under technical debt.

    If things are going crazy all the time, the team has over-committed. Even Scrum teams can borrow the Kanban idea of limiting work in progress. Focus on finishing one story at a time – including all the testing, all the refactoring, all the automation. Only commit to the amount of work that can be done properly – not the amount of work that can be hacked out without adequate thought and testing.

    Of course we have to be flexible when it comes to business priorities. There are times where we may have to compromise and do a quick fix we’re not happy about. But if we learn the business domain, we can help our customers find trade-offs, where they may get the most important things they need quickly enough and leave the “nice to haves” for later, or implement something that does most of what they want more cheaply (but still cleanly).

    1. Lisa, good point. But “value” encompasses more than just the value to the customer. That is a point I was hoping someone would make because if we focus only on CUSTOMER VALUE then we will fail. We have to focus on BUSINESS VALUE which encompasses internal needs, risk and other items as well. It is why I made sure to point out the things I did with my family. To me they are “internal value” and not “customer value” for my business.

      I tell workshop attendees that focusing solely on customer value will lead to a happy customer – for about 10 minutes when the software breaks and can’t be fixed. Focusing only on internal value means the customer has no reason to purchase the software. We need to have the right mix of customer value and internal value which we roll up into business value.

      As far as things “going crazy all the time” being equal to overcommitting, I’m not sure I agree with that. In some cases this may be true. In other cases it can mean a variety of things having nothing to do with being overcommitted. For example, it could have to do with overall focus. Or something external to the team causing consternation of some sort. Craziness can and will happen. I agree in general that if it happens all the time it is symptomatic of something that needs to be investigated – quickly! I just don’t think the answer is always the same.

      Thanks for the response! I agree with almost all of it and was happy to see someone point these things out so quickly.

      – Bob –

  2. In an testing environment lot of things happen unexpectedly (just as in life!). Under those conditions even if we work diligently the situation is not in our hand. People get crazy mostly in these situations. Unfortunately I have no solutions for these conditions.